February 18, 2010

  • Question 225 - James White and Beckwith

    Three things: Opinion on James White, conversions, apologetics/study Bible


    Greetings Dr. Sungenis.  First, what is the matter with Dr. James White?  I went to his website and read some of his arguments to try and understand his thinking.  I think I succeeded in understanding his failure.  After reading for a couple of hours, the word "heresy" began ringing in my head so much that it gave me a headache.  Like G.K. Chesterton said, heresy comes about when you try and divide the whole truth into your own half-truth.  For example, one of White's debates with you about justification, he kept referring to your view, the "Roman" view, as "man-centered", and his supposed "Biblical" view as "God-centered".  I'm no theologian or scholar, but what rings true to me is that justification and salvation depend on both God and man, a "dynamic" relationship like you explain on Pg. 191 of Not by Bread Alone.  I believe that is the natural understanding a reasonable person would arrive at if reading John's Gospel and the New Testament in context (actually, the entire Bible).  In other words, it is the "whole" truth.  I'm not saying the Bible is always easy to understand, but to come away with the understanding "God has selected (no, created) me for heaven or hell, and there's nothing I can do about it" after reading the Scriptures just seems alien and superimposed.  Anyway, that's my "argument" from intuition.


    White's problem is that he can't handle the whole truth.  He can't handle the idea that both God and man choose (not God or man), even though a consistent reading of Scripture requires this view.  I could go on and on (and I'm sure so could you) about the damage this half-truth does to other major beliefs such as the Incarnation and the Mystical Body of Christ (predestination without free will turns these beliefs into a mere charade cooked up by God).  Accepting a belief and understanding it are two separate matters.  Arius likely didn't understand the full truth of the Trinity, so he rejected it.  But not fully understanding it is not a reason for rejecting it.


    Again and again, White "divides and conquers" the truth.  I watched the full debate you had with him on papal infallibility.  He divides the full truth into his own two realms: "sola ecclesia" and "sola scriptura".  In the end, White's errors are due to false logic: a false application of the Law of Excluded Middle ("either this or that"); this illogic permeates his work; you see a predictable pattern, and his errors end up only amplifying the real truth when you take a step back and realize it. (Actually, you do realize White's error in logic yourself in the last line of the note on Pg. 190 of NBBA: "Consistent logic demands that both the Lord's Supper and Calvary are anticipated by John 6, but neither is negated.").  I think if you have the opportunity in future debates with Dr. White, you should stress Dr. White's overall error in thinking to the audience, in addition to the particular misinterpretations of the text.


    Next, do you have an opinion on Dr. Francis Beckwith joining the Catholic Church?  Maybe other successful Protestant apologists like William Lane Craig will follow suit.  Perhaps even major intellects like N.T. Wright and J.P. Moreland?  Ok, that may be a stretch.  But what do all these names have in common?  They all reject Calvinism.  James White should pay better attention.


    R. Sungenis: Brenden, what White fails to see is that the Catholic Church had already dealt with these issues many centuries ago. It condemned both “man-centered” views of Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism. It also dealt with the predestinarian extremes of Lucidus, of Gottschalk, of Wycliffe, of Luther and Calvin. The truth is somewhere in the middle and nobody has quite figured out what that middle is. We know what we can’t say, but we are not quite sure all that we can say. White, and men of his generation, think they have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to theology, failing to see that many men before them have struggled with these issues. The fact remains that the Church is the final authority on this topic, and it has chosen to say that it is beyond our comprehension. White, however, because he has separated himself from the Church, thinks he, as an individual man in the street, has the answer. When this happens, all kinds of extremes will result, and one of those extremes is the position that God predestines men to heaven and hell and that man’s free will does not influence that choice. This position seems logical to White because he can’t figure out how God’s predestination can fit with man’s free will, so he thinks he only has one option – get rid of free will. Other Protestants, however, attempt to solve the problem by getting rid of predestination. The Catholic Church says they are both wrong, and rightly so.


    As for Beckwith and company, we will continue to see an influx of Protestants coming to the Catholic Church for theological reasons, and we will continue to see a lot of people leave the Catholic Church because of the heresies that are being taught by many Catholic leaders who ignore the truths they have received from the historic Catholic Church. But there is one thing that keeps people like Beckwith inside the Church – they’ve been through all the muck and confusion of Protestantism, and they will never go back. At least in the Catholic Church we know that the truth exists, we just have to find it above all the heretics in the Church who try to hide it from us.